On Sunday night in Port Jefferson, the streets were quiet but at least one bar was packed: Billie’s 1890 Saloon, whose long-anticipated reopening brings back one of the village’s enduring watering holes.
On June 27, 2016, a fire that broke out in the bar’s kitchen revealed code violations and other complications that forced Billie’s closure. Billie’s would stay dark for the next two years.
In the interim, original owner Billie E. Phillips Jr., who founded the business in 1981 but sold it six years later, purchased Billie’s back and set about re-establishing it with his son, Billie S. Phillips.
They renovated the place from head to toe, said bartender Louis Lasser IV, so that “every inch” is new or has been rebuilt, from the bar to the tin ceilings and walls, still painted a glossy maroon.
The bar reopened a few days before Thanksgiving, and the response took everyone there by surprise. “We kind of anticipated being busy,” said Lasser, but so many people descended on Billie’s that at one point, staff ran out during service to find more English muffins for burgers.
That signature burger, the 1890 burger ($14), comes with hand-cut fries; the kitchen is making many items from scratch, said Billie S. Phillips, including roasted meats for sandwiches (the $16 Jones Street pairs shaved lamb with arugula and mustard) and corned beef that's brined for seven days. Chef Adrian Morales also plates entrees ($20 to $33) such as filet mignon with creamed spinach, as well as bar snacks ($8 to $13) like mussels in a curry cream and Irish-style egg rolls stuffed with that house corned beef, plus cabbage.
Peroni, Smithwick’s and Guinness are among nine beers on tap; two wine taps dispense with cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc from the North Fork’s Raphael. While the cocktail list isn’t printed yet, it includes drinks such as the 1890 Sour, a whiskey sour with a cabernet franc float.
While some locals have lamented the loss of Billie’s shot wheel and 20-cent wings, the bar's more upscale feel is intentional, according to Phillips. “A lot of people are saying it looks like Billie’s grew up,” Lasser added.
Billie’s 1890 opens at 11 a.m. daily for lunch, dinner, and drinks.
Billie’s 1890 Saloon, 304 Main St., Port Jefferson. 631-331-1890.